The size and shape of TNE provision

You don’t have to study in England to be a part of English higher education

David Kernohan is Deputy Editor of Wonkhe

A timely new Office for Students insight brief reminds us that some 16 per cent of students registered at English universities and colleges live – and study – overseas.

Many providers have established links with overseas providers or developed collaborative provision. Though we talk less about international campuses these days, there are still substantial investments made here. And the pandemic experience has emphasised the value of distance, flexible and distributed learning.

Transnational education (TNE) is a huge contributor to sector finances, In 2020, it was estimated that UK TNE brought in £2.3 billion. And as shown below, your provider is almost certainly involved.

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Note: You’ll spot a big dip in the total number of TNE students between 2019-20 and 2020-21, which can entirely be attributed to the well-documented Oxford Brookes/ACCA reclassification. Charts in the OfS publication exclude this, I’ve left it in just to show how massive it was. Also worth bearing in mind if you are comparing these charts to the OfS one – TNE is a UK-wide issue, so I’ve used UK-wide data, while OfS is interested only in the providers it registered.

It’s worth digging into the filters to examine the contribution made by undergraduate and postgraduate provision, and the way in which different universities work in different parts of the world. I’ve also done an annual ranking, if you are wondering who is leading the way.

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Away from the welcome boost to UK income in a time when the unit of resource is shrinking, TNE has the potential to achieve a valuable “soft power” benefit – as the local experience of the world-class UK system it can make a valuable local contribution to skills and development while also promoting the idea of other UK study.

The issue, of course, is quality. Which is why it is interesting we are getting this insight brief now from OfS. TNE courses are, of course, subject to the usual gamut of baseline conditions as a part of the institutional offer – and the regulator would step in according to identified risks. OfS gets information on TNE quality issues via three routes – the “reportable event” (notifications by providers), student notifications, and (currently limited in scope) HESA data.

If you are working with any kind of overseas provision, you’ll also be aware of the need to comply with requirements in the host country. Happily, most international processes are aligned with international standards – usually the European Standards and Guidelines for Quality Assurance (ESG) first set out in 2005. Unhappily, OfS quality assurance does not.

For this reason, Universities UK and Guild HE have got together to ask the Quality Assurance Agency to develop the Quality Evaluation and Enhancement of UK Transnational Higher Education Provision (UK-TNE) scheme. This is a voluntary scheme that runs on a “by host country” basis, with the support of 75 UK providers.

Though political opinion has soured (once again) on international students coming into the UK, there is clearly a less-controversial role for TNE expansion in maintaining the international value of UK higher education. Even the DfE international education strategy is clear that there is scope for growth, aiming to bring in £35bn of income from these sources by 2030.

China provides by far the largest volume of TNE students, and I am very grateful for HESA for this dataset breaking down that group by provider and level. Again, this valuable (in ways far beyond financial) initiative is hostage to geopolitics – and given last week’s warnings on overexposure to risk in this area there will be a few teams in the sector thinking about contingencies already.

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Note: because of the way some providers restrict what data HESA can share with journalists, the following providers are not shown on this chart: ACM Guildford, Arden University, Backstage Academy, BIMM University, College of Legal Practice Limited, Court Theatre Training Company, Falmouth University, ICON College, Kaplan Open Learning, London Bridge Business Academy, London School of Theology, London South Bank University, Luther King House Educational Trust, Nazarene Theological College, New College of the Humanities, New Model Institute for Technology and Engineering (NMITE), Pearson College, Point Blank Music School, SAE Education, Spurgeon’s College, St Mellitus College, The College of Health, The Engineering and Design Institute London, London Interdisciplinary School, The Queen’s Foundation, The University of Law, Waltham International College Limited.

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